Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Anyone Catch the Debate?

"What kind of moron hasn't decided on a political candidate at this point?"

I've heard that a lot, or similar sentiments.  But it's kind of a silly statement, in my opinion.  It assumes a dichotomy of voters who are undecided, and voters who have committed to a candidate, and are done using their brain.  I think Gov. Johnson is the best choice by far, but I am open minded, and did watch the debates.

I thought Trump was childish going in.  This debate did not change that.  What surprised me is how childish Clinton came across.  They spent the debate bickering back and forth.  You saw her smug smile every time Trump had to address an issue that made him look bad.  I'm sure Trump would have done the same, if Hilary had been asked any tough questions.

At one point Trump asked her why she deleted the emails.  Clinton says it was a mistake to have a private email server.  Whoops.  That doesn't even address the question, does it?  And why is Trump asking this question, instead of the moderator?  Trump was asked about his taxes, the birther issue, accusations of being sexist; to name a few.  Where were Clinton's hard questions?

But the real reason I posed this is what was said about the No-Fly-List.  The government makes this list.  No trial.  No conviction.  They think you might be engaging in wrong-think, and you get on the list.  Once you're on the list you don't get to board an airplane.  Clinton says she wants to use this list to deny people's second amendment rights.  Trump says, "I agree."

These are our two options.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Good Help is Hard to Find

"We have your Underwriting Approval.”

This is a rant about the way an unnamed Mortgage Company communicates with a borrower. The subject is a man ( “Aaron” ) and a married couple ( “Tom” and “Jean” ) who agreed to co-sign for Aaron’s loan.

Time was of the essence … the agreement to co-sign happened only three weeks prior to the scheduled closing. About a week and a half into the process, while Jean and Tom were still waiting for word that their inputs were approved by underwriting, Aaron’s loan officer sent him an email, the bulk of which is reproduced in the left column below.
Loan Officer's email
( name altered )
Aaron called Tom and Jean; he was gushing and grateful, saying he got an email from his loan officer telling him it’s a go. Jean and Tom were excited, too; they had gotten through the process with minimal exposure. Had they lived closer, the three of them would have had a celebratory glass of wine. 

The next day Tom got a
completely contradictory email, “We received your file out of
underwriting and unfortunately they would not accept ( a provided
item ).” They need the same things originally spoken of, the email said

Wha’ … . Huh?” Tom wondered. “Didn’t Aaron just tell us we’re good to go … all approved?” 

He called the team lead; she was most unhelpful. She did promise to send Tom a copy of whatever was sent to Aaron. She forwarded it without comment. 

And no wonder; what kind of comment could she have made? The text clearly says underwriting is approved … doesn’t it? No reasonable reading could conclude differently … could it?

“Watch the video,” you might be thinking. “They prepared a video.

The video bills itself as an update; it includes text saying, “Congratulations,” and “Approved.” The audio says “the underwriting review is complete” and the loan approval has been assured. The audio further suggests some further ‘conditions’ might be required, with text adding such as copies of tax returns, verification of employment and homeowner’s insurance policy. No mention of co-signer approval. The audio promises an email detailing “any conditions needed.” None was sent. 

What seems to be a picture of a letter ( below ) to Aaron followed. ( He did not receive an actual letter such as this. ) Notice the request to take action “no later than ****”; notice the lack of ownership. Though addressed to the actual borrower, this seems like a sample letter; there is nothing actionable in it. Is there? Am I missing something? The audio then says congratulations again, and states we are in the home stretch. 

What Appears to be an Image of a Letter to a Borrower
This video, “prepared just for” Aaron, is completely devoid of any reference to his co-signers lack of approval. Though it introduces the notion of ‘conditions,’ the video reinforces the lie that the text of the email told. 

This is an excellent example of what passes for communication in corporate America and irks me beyond all reason ... the co-signers remain unapproved ( i.e., is rejected ); no congratulations are in order. If the ‘conditions’ referred to in the video refer to co-signers rejected material, burying it in the middle of such profuse congratulations is very unlikely to get them noticed, let alone worked on. If the text in the image of the letter is is a real request, it should look like a letter and not an image of one. Someone should have signed ( the image of ) it. If ‘conditions’ need fulfillment, the ( image of the ) letter should ask them to be obtained by a real date, not “no later than ***.” If this is real, the follow-up “condition worksheet” should have been provided. Yikes!!

Via return email, Tom complained bitterly to the team lead about her failure to comment on the letter when she forwarded it; he suggested it contained misleading to lying statements and expressed disappointment. Her response? Silence. We can only hope it was embarrassed silence.

Good help is hard to find.
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Monday, September 19, 2016

A Little Bit of Knowledge

A little over three years ago I bought a new Samsung Galaxy Note II.  When I started looking I remember commenting that it was rather pricey, and the salesmen replied, "Well we're talking about the best phone on the market."  He wasn't wrong.  It was debatably the best.

I bought it online much cheaper, but with no warranty.  I liked it a lot, but I had to replace the headphone jack after only a few months.  But I could, and the part was cheap.  A year later other small problems arose, and the headphone jack was going out again.  Then I broke the screen.

I do computer support for a living.  It's phone support, often called software support.  People do call me about hardware, software, and usage issues.  I just don't solve hardware issues for I living, just diagnose them, and pass them on to technicians with physical access.

This is to say, I have a little knowledge about computer hardware.  I tried to fix it up again, and failed.  When I replaced it, I bought a used Iphone.  I thought the one thing I could trust Apple to do was to make a robust product.  Whatever else they did wrong, durability was something they had always done right by me.

Well, a year after I bought it the headphone jack broke.  I admit I do use the headphone jack on phones more than most.  But I have a little bit of knowledge, right?  I replaced it, and it worked.  Then I dropped it, and the screen broke.

But I learned a thing or two from my galaxy, a little bit of knowledge you might say.  Instead of replacing the screen, which is next to impossible without a heated vacuum tube, I was able to replace the whole digitizer assembly for $22.  Which worked fine for two days.  Then it started coming apart.  After talking it apart again to see what I did wrong, I saw that the place it was coming apart is not a place that is attached with screws.  It wasn't me, just a faulty digitizer.

Having taken my phone apart three times now, and never being able to put it back together exactly flush, it felt ruined.  I could have exchanged my screen in a few days, but I was done.  I did some research and found some good deals on the LG Stylo II for $170.  The crazy thing is, the Stylo II is very comparable to my Note II, which was top of the line just three years ago.  And I was able to pick this one up for a great deal, without a warranty.  I told you I have a little bit of knowledge.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Chain Saw Makes a Good Neighbor

“Um, well … no.”

I told you about the fence separating Andy’s yard from mine, no? And our plan to replace it? All is going well; they’ve installed the posts for the new fence.

Kevin, on the other side of us, is relatively new ( his tenure in the house is measured in years ) and we also had a recent pleasant experience. It all began innocently enough, as we were chatting over his fence. “Did you know you have a tree growing in your bushes up front?” he asked.

I hid the embarrassment at not noticing, and was able to respond, “Well, no, I didn’t realize that.”

He pointed, I looked, and, sure enough, I saw nothing. “I’ll check it out, thanks,” I said, as I walked toward the bushes he had indicated. Our fence separates his yard from ours. At the end of the fence is a short concrete wall extending to the side of our house, and bushes grow on the backyard side of this wall. In the corner of the wooden fence and concrete wall, a sturdy tree was sprouting. It was tall but did not tower over the bushes. 

Actually, as trees go, this was small. I went in the house, got my ratcheting clippers and managed, with some effort, to cut the trunk of the tree and pull it out. Though I do not consider myself a gardener, I was embarrassed that Kevin showed a better understanding of what is going on in my yard than I have.

A few days later I was talking to him again. He asked, “Do you know you have trees growing in your lilac bushes here by the garage?”

“Uh,  well … no.”

“Take a look,” and we walked toward the back of my yard. Sure enough, among the lilac bushes growing in the garden are trees; plural. More. than. one. Some are small; some rather large. In fact, the tallest plant in the garden was one of these trees.

I was again embarrassed by his noticing more about my plantings than I did; but he is not flaunting this, only conversing about it.

He volunteers to help me remove them, adding, “We can borrow a small electric chain saw from Dave. I’m sure he has one.” I am sure, too; Dave is the guy on our block that has every tool known to man. He’s also very generous about loaning them. “Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday next week would work for me; let me know.”

Meeting Dave in the alley, I spoke with him about borrowing his chain saw. He was speaking with Andy, the neighbor on the other side of me, who offered his saw if Dave’s was not available. Wow. I’d never used a chain saw on my property and two neighbors were competing ( so it seemed ) to loan me theirs. No need, though; Dave’s was available.

The following week Kevin and I worked in my yard. He climbed up on my garage roof to clip the top of a tree that threatened to take down my internet connection if we cut the it down from the ground; on the ground, he took the saw into the thick of the tree branches and lilac shoots and cut and cut and cut; he pulled trees out when we switched roles. A large array of cut trees and lilac branches across my back yard marked the successful end of our endeavor. “I think you can handle it from here,” Kevin said, smiling.

“Yup, sure I can,” I replied, “thanks,” as he put on his baseball cap and walked to the alley, around our garage and home.

And I did handle it, cutting the branches and lilac shoots into pieces small enough to stuff into the lawn waste bags our city collects. I used the saw to cut up a couple maple tree branches that a recent storm had knocked down as well. When finished I had 7 or 8 waste bags, fully stuffed. And I was bushed.

Later I reflected. I realized that this project and the earlier fence project had brought me closer to my neighbors than I had previously been. I felt good; I liked it. I hoped they did, too.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Penn's Potato Famine

I've written about Penn Jillette before.  I don't always agree with him, but he is the most prominent Libertarian atheist at the moment.  I often agree with him, and think he's a great entertainer.  You kind of have to be to be a Los Vegas headliner.

And I've written about his new diet, what little I knew.  Well he finally put it all down in words.  His new book is called Presto, and it was entertaining, if nothing else.  But it was something else.  It had a lot of interesting ideas I haven't heard elsewhere, and certainly made me think.  He made it very clear that he is not a doctor, or dietitian, and ideas are all he's providing, not advice.

Rule one of his daily diet is no salt, sugar, oil, refined grains, or animal products.  It doesn't take a genius to know that will make you lose weight.  It's also not a diet I can do without preparing almost every meal I eat myself.  And it's not a diet even he would recommend to someone like me who is only 25 pounds overweight.  But the book has other interesting ideas that are worth exploring.

The big one his dietitian calls metabolic winter.  The basic idea is that through most of human history we've experienced long periods of warmth, activity, and abundance of food, that we've adapted to use to store fat reserves for shorter periods of cold, inactivity, and scarcity of food.  And that as a people we've conquered winter, leaving us in a perpetually summer storing fat for a winter that never comes.  I think there's some validity to that.  It sounds right.

His dietitian's solution is a 90 day winter simulation.  For three weeks, eat nothing but potato's, take cold showers daily, and don't exercise.  Then for the rest of the 90 days, start easing yourself up to a more rich diet, with normal activity levels.  The cold showers are just to get started.  He calls this the potato famine, which shows just how great we have it.  Our famine is only potatoes, compared to the real potato famine, which was when we lost our potatoes.

There were a lot of other interesting ideas, but the second I'm interested in he calls half-fasts.  The basic idea is there is some data to show that if you restrict food to a narrow time window, you will gain less weight, and be less addicted to food.  Your body will need to regulate itself, feeding you from your reserves, which I do have, instead of expecting a constant flow of new calories.  On a grander scale, he says that a huge amount of calories in a five hour window every two weeks will cause way less weight gain than that same amount of calories spread throughout that two weeks.

He also made it very clear that he was under strict medical supervision during this time, and anyone else trying it should be too.  That's not an option for me either.  His diet isn't for me though, remember?  He says he has a crazy diet for people who are crazy overweight.  That's not me.  But he has got me thinking, and I do have some saner plans for myself.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Theological Skepticism #4

A theist acquaintance of my just sent me a link to this video.

When I saw what it was about, I decided to pause it and respond to each of his points.  Then I decided to share those thoughts with you guys.

I agree moral good and evil really exist (objective morality), and it's not a substitute for "I like" and "I don't like."
Morally good decisions are ones that are in accordance with well-being, and morally bad decisions are ones that are not.

"Where do good and evil come from?"
Well-being and ill-being are a product of intelligence, which is a product of our evolution.  Not all beings evolved the ability to experience well-being.  Plants for example, don't experience anything, as far as we can tell.
The reason we are receptive to care about the well-being of others is also a product of evolution.  We evolved to be a social species, and caring about other's well-being is an important part of that.  Creatures that are not social don't seem to care about the well-being of anyone except for themselves, mating partners, and offspring, if that.

He argues that evolution can't be a moral standard because an ever changing model doesn't provide a standard.
We didn't evolve morality.  We evolved the ability understand morality, and a drive to be moral.

I agree with him that reasoning is used to understand morality, but is not the source of morality.
Unlike him, I don't think it's common for criminals to plan murders without knowing it's immoral, and completely disagree that risking your own life to save another is an unreasonable thing to do.

I agree that conscience is not the source of morality.  Conscience is what we call our drive to be moral.
He's correct that some people don't seem to have this, just as some people are born missing a limb.

Human Nature
I agree with him that our nature is not the source of morality.
Our nature is to have many drives, and one of them is to be moral.
He says we wouldn't want to live in a world where human nature is given free reign, as though we don't already live in that world.  All of our thoughts and desires are a result of our nature, and all of our actions are a result of those thoughts and desires.

Utilitarianism is a specific moral philosophy.  He does not subscribe to this philosophy, and neither do I, so not much to say about that.

He says that because morality does not exist physically it's cause must be something that exists apart from the physical world.
I agree that morality is not physical.  It is conceptual, like mathematics; and like mathematics, it describes the physical world.

He then goes on to say that if morality is not physical, it is beyond nature, and proves the supernatural.
That's pretty dumb.
The only way this makes any sense is if he's defining nature as the physical world, and anything conceptual as supernatural.  That is not what those words mean to anyone I know.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Our Democracy: too Fragile for 'the Donald'

His style: inciting, scary
His followers, desperate
All excuses serve violence
And they don't need all that much

His followers, desperate
He mixes in some prodding
And they don't need all that much
To know that they've been wronged 

He mixes in some prodding
They'll find a scapegoat fair
To know that they've been wronged 
And everyone's a potential enemy

They'll find a scapegoat fair
They'll take a swing, throw a punch
And everyone's a potential enemy
To minimize restraint: "I'll pay your legal fees"

They'll take a swing, throw a punch
His style: inciting, scary
To minimize restraint: "I'll pay your legal fees"
All excuses serve violence
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